As we approach the first anniversary of the apprenticeship levy, many employers are still confused about how to best use their contributions to develop their managers. Introduced by the government in April last year, the levy partly aims to encourage employers to hire more apprentices and offer school leavers an alternative to university. However, its scope goes beyond entry-level roles and covers leadership and management training programmes for existing staff. Often, this is where misapprehensions and false expectations arise.
Some employers assume they can use the levy to pay for their existing management training interventions. It’s not that simple. You can’t just rebrand your graduate training programme or elbow your current leadership courses to fit the levy. Any programmes funded by levy contributions have to meet defined standards, they have to be approved and a portfolio of evidence – that demonstrates the appropriate knowledge, skills and behaviours – has to be compiled. Yes, levy funding provides a huge opportunity to support and develop your managers. But there are significant constraints, and these should be understood from the outset.
Here are five steps that will help you to maximise the value of your levy contributions:
1. Prioritise what you want to achieve. By reviewing your organisation’s strategic aspirations and the management training that’s currently available, you should be able to identify where training gaps exist. Who are you looking to develop? What additional skills do they need? Remember, levy funding is handled differently in England than in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Calculate how much training you can provide, with the levy funds that you have available, and prioritise where you should spend that money. Can you afford a large-scale talent development programme or would your business be better served by training small cohorts of select managers?
2. Choose the right level. The levy pays for a variety of standards that relate to different job roles. Specific knowledge, skills and behaviours are required to meet each standard. For example, a Level 3 management apprenticeship can be appropriate for a supervisor or first-line manager, and a Level 5 apprenticeship for operational, departmental or regional managers. Level 7 apprenticeships cover master’s level qualifications for senior leaders. Once you’ve identified your target audience, consider which level of skills will meet their needs and whether they are eligible for levy funding.
3. Understand the commitment that’s required. Undertaking management apprenticeships requires a significant commitment from the individuals concerned. The programmes can last 18-24 months and involve working days, assignments, projects and assessments. These rigorous requirements have proved a stumbling block for some employers, which are reluctant to release important people from the workplace for the necessary time. You have to consider whether a deeply immersive programme such as this will work for your managers and your organisation.
4. Do as much due diligence as you can, to choose the right partner. Ask a shortlist of registered training providers, with an outstanding Ofsted grade, to present solutions. Some partners offer design and delivery of training; others use specialist leadership and management providers. The credibility and track record of the company that will actually deliver the programme is vital. Take time to find a trusted provider that can understand and meet your needs. With management and leadership programmes, it’s important to consider the quality of the faculty, the learning content, their facilities and their support materials. Don’t allow your managers to be fobbed off with ropey materials or inexperienced facilitators.
5. Budget for the hidden costs. Some employers don’t realise their apprenticeship levy contributions can only be spent on delivering the training. All the other costs involved – for example, the costs of designing, tailoring, administering and supporting the programmes – must be paid by the organisation. Allow for these additional costs in your budgeting process.
Upskilling your managers can not only help you meet your key business challenges, it can also foster better management practices in your organisation. This can result in innovations, service improvements and a more conducive work environment.
Any partner or provider that says this is easy to achieve through levy funding is lying. It’s a journey, and some employers are choosing not to undertake it. But the opportunity is certainly there. If you can identify the type and level of training that suits your organisation and your managers, and partner with the right provider, you can successfully utilise your contributions to deliver effective, engaging and relevant learning to the right people.
Rupert Grant is an apprenticeship levy training expert at leadership development specialist Hemsley Fraser